'Wrong wood' used by Tower Hamlets for children's play equipment that killed Alexia Walenkaki at Mile End
PUBLISHED: 18:43 17 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:20 22 May 2018
Lack of any safety inspection and the wrong type of wood used for the play equipment killed five-year-old Alexia Walenkaki in a children's playground at Mile End Park, an inquest has heard.
Little Alexia was struck on the head when a wooden swinging frame collapsed at Mile End playpark as her mother watched in horror just a few feet away.
There was “organisational failure and lack of accountability” by Tower Hamlets Council for failing to carry out its annual inspection for 18 months which contributed to her death, a jury at St Pancras Coroners Court was told.
Alexia died at the Royal London Hospital the day after the tragedy in the Rhodeswell Road playground, off Burdett Road, on July 17, 2015—just half-a-mile from the family home.
“I have lost my little girl because of these failings,” Alexia’s traumatised mum Vida Kwotuah said today after the inquest.
“I am disappointed to learn how chaotic and disorganised council management was, which no doubt led to the missed annual inspection in 2014.
“Alexia’s death shook the foundations of our family. It is terrible, her life was tragically cut so short.
“It has been horrible to relive the events through the inquest and I hope that no parent ever loses their child in the same circumstances.”
The design of the playground fell significantly below the required standard, safety specialist Jean Wenger, a member of the Institute of Expert Witnesses, told the jury during the seven-day hearing. He gave evidence that the council “fell seriously below the standard required” of a playground operator when they commissioned the equipment.
The design had specified durable oak wood, when in fact cheaper and less durable poplar wood was used.
The use of the wrong wood was a failing by the designer and installer, jurors were told.
The council had last carried out its ‘annual check’ in September 2013, a year-and-a-half before Alexia’s death, which the safety specialist stated was “a serious breach of the council’s duty as an operator”.
Alexia’s mum, speaking for her family, said: “We hope checks are made when new equipment is installed. Children have a right to play safely in public playgrounds.”
Inner London senior coroner Mary Hassell is to send a ‘prevention of further deaths’ report to the council and is also considering a report to the Secretary of State.
The family’s solicitor, Peter Todd from Hodge Jones & Allen law firm, said: “Children’s play areas need to remain places where they can play safely and parents can be confident they are safe.”
There was “a real risk of another tragic event” if immediate checks weren’t made in all playgrounds, the law firm pointed out.
The council tonight accepted the inquest jury’s narrative verdict and assured that urgent safety checks were made at all play facilities immediately after, with “a more rigorous system for inspecting”.
Mayor John Biggs admitted in a statement to the Advertiser: “Alexia should have been kept safe while using Mile End Park—no words can adequately express our regret that she was not.”